Bears

GM Ryan Pace grateful for contract extension but knows 'I have to do a better job'

GM Ryan Pace grateful for contract extension but knows 'I have to do a better job'

While the immediate attention is necessarily riveted on the candidates for and process of selecting the 16th head coach in franchise history, the underlying and more intense glare now turns to Ryan Pace, the first-time general manager hired to be the architect of a franchise turnaround that failed to materialize under the coaching of John Fox.

Pace’s was a situation with some complexity for the organization, specifically with respect to contracts. Pace finished the 2017 with two years remaining on his contract but was now moving into a search for a coach who will come with a minimum of a four-year contract, possibly five depending on the market and the coach’s pedigree.

Accordingly, President Ted Phillips announced an extension of Pace’s contract through the 2021 season, a contract extension for a general manager with a 14-34 record – the same mark that got his head coach fired.

The extension does send a message of continuity and stability to prospective coaching candidates, who can now conclude that their boss has the backing of his bosses. “To know that the organization is behind the general manager is important,” Phillips said.

The Bears have had GM-coach contracts out of phase in the past and it has created issues, though more typically where the coach is in place when a new GM is hired. Jerry Angelo inherited Dick Jauron in 2001, was expected to dismiss Jauron after that season, only to have the Bears surprise the NFL (and Angelo) with a 13-3 playoff season that effectively forced Angelo to extend Jauron in what proved to be some of the most acrimonious Bears negotiations of the last quarter-century.

Angelo was fired in 2012, leaving coach Lovie Smith in place for incoming GM Phil Emery. Emery summarily fired Smith after a 10-6 season because of continuing failure to reach the postseason.

Pace said the decision on Fox was not finalized until late Sunday night, in the aftermath of the loss at Minnesota. The move was clearly an emotional one for Pace, whose relationship with the veteran head coach was very good, beginning with Pace making the trip to Denver for the second 2015 hiring interview with Fox.

And Pace did not scapegoat or dump the failures of the past three years on Fox.

“I point the finger at myself as well,” Pace said. “But I feel good about where we are, better than I felt at this time last year,” adding “I have to do a better job

Tough eval

Fox correctly characterized the NFL as a results-based business. Pace’s results have been the concurrent with Fox’s, each making notable mistakes on the way to compiling one of the worst three-year marks in franchise history.

The full effect of Pace’s personnel acquisitions is difficult to fully assess if only because of significant injuries to two of the three most important additions of his regime, a tenure that has seen some three dozen players on injured reserve by the ends of the last two seasons.

“[The injury wave] is something that’s occurred for three consecutive years,” Pace said, noting that efforts had been made to change the strength, conditioning and nutrition aspects of the Bears’ program. “It’s something we’ve got to get on top of.”

In the cases of the top picks, these are unequivocally the foundation players for a franchise and the Bears have not seen the return from them, through no fault of the players:

Wide receiver Kevin White, No. 7-overall pick of the 2015 draft, who has just 5 starts, 21 catches and three broken bones in three years to show for his three NFL seasons. If there is anything encouraging it is that White has averaged 4 catches per game, respectable for someone who missed their entire rookie season; and… .

Linebacker Leonard Floyd, No. 9-overall pick of the 2016 draft, who missed games at three different times in his rookie season, which ended with a concussion in game 15, and went on IR this season and missed the final six games with a knee injury. “I’m doing good,” Floyd said on Monday. “I’ve got a good rehab process planned out. I plan on sticking to it and getting back.”

Pace now will be drafting in the top 10 (he traded up from 11 to 9 to grab Floyd) for the fourth straight year. This guarantees and means nothing in terms of talent acquisition, except that there hasn’t been enough of it. The Detroit Lions had top-10 picks for six straight years (2002-07), six years amid a run of 10 straight seasons with losing records.

High-dollar mistakes

Curiously, Pace has enjoyed more success in his three drafts than in his three years of work in free agency, even though his background is more on the pro-personnel side. “It’s not a business where there is a 90-percent success rate,” Phillips said, mentioning 60 percent as perhaps a more realistic standard.

On Pace’s watch, the Bears have committed tens of millions of dollars on free agents who, for reasons of age, simple performance, injury, fit or whatever, failed to deliver play levels even remotely close to value for the money. Foremost among them and their (guarantees):

Marcus Cooper, CB ($8 million) – opening-day starter, injured, lost starting job, notable for slowing down short of end zone vs. Pittsburgh and being overtaken.

Mike Glennon, QB ($18.5 million) – former Tampa Bay backup, lost starting job after four games, never took another ’17 snap. “With the quarterback position, I have no regrets in us being aggressive in attacking that position; it’s that important,” Pace said. “We all felt confident in Mike and sometimes in our business, things don’t work out. There’s a lot of factors involved. But fortunately for us, being aggressive at that position, in essence we took two swings.”

Pernell McPhee, OLB ($15.5 million) – No. 1 UFA target in ’15, impact player but could not get beyond knee, shoulder injuries, started just 17 games, 14 total sacks in 3 seasons.

Antrel Rolle, S ($4.9 million) – started 7 games, zero INT’s, 1 pass defensed, swore revenge on Bears after 2016 release but no one signed him.

Dion Sims, TE ($10 million) – 15 receptions, 180 yards and 1 TD in 14 starts; roster decision in Mar. when $4 million of $6 million ’18 base becomes guaranteed.

Pace and lead negotiator Joey Laine have been credited for doing a number of one-year, “prove it” deals (e.g., CB Prince Amukamara, K Connor Barth, DL John Jenkins, WR Kendall Wright). But if the best thing you can say about a contract is that it is relatively easy to get out of, the inescapable conclusion also is that you have not done that deal with anyone who qualifies as a building block for your franchise.

“Free agency is high risk and we understand that,” Pace said. “As we continue to build more through the draft, we can become more selective in free agency.”

Pro Football Focus: Khalil Mack is NFL’s most valuable edge rusher

Pro Football Focus: Khalil Mack is NFL’s most valuable edge rusher

It didn’t take the Bears long to see how valuable Khalil Mack is to their defense, elevating the group from the moment he first stepped on the field.

He’s been among the league’s best outside linebackers since he first broke out in 2015, and the analytics back up the eye test.

He was the highest edge defender on Pro Football Focus’ list of the top 50 players in the NFL, and their “wins above replacement” metric shows why.

It’s Mack and Von Miller, then everyone else.

“Foremost, Mack is a slightly more complete player than Miller when it comes to defending the run,” PFF’s Ben Linsey wrote. “Yes, run defense is significantly less important than an edge rusher’s ability to disrupt the quarterback, but with so little difference between the players, everything gets put under the magnifying glass.”

Over the past four seasons, both players have exactly 49 sacks, although Mack missed two games over that span. The Bears outside linebacker has the edge in interceptions, forced fumbles and tackles for loss, most coming with a lower quality defense around him than what Miller has had in Denver.

It’s no surprise Ryan Pace was willing to trade multiple first-round picks to make Mack the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history. He’s the best in the league.

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Projected lineups for Eddie Jackson’s charity softball game

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USA Today

Projected lineups for Eddie Jackson’s charity softball game

Eddie Jackson is hosting a charity softball game this Saturday, June 15th at Schamburg Boomers stadium at 5:05pm. It’ll be offense vs defense so let’s take an early look at what these lineups might look like for both teams.

Defense

1. Eddie Jackson

Has home run hitting ability in the leadoff spot and a flair for the dramatic. This rising star puts the pressure on the opposing pitcher from the very first pitch. Plus it’s his game, so of course he’s batting first.

2. Kyle Fuller

Tied for the NFL interception lead in 2018, Fuller’s combination of speed, instincts and film study  at the top of the lineup helps set the table for the big bats.

3. Akiem Hicks

As Ed O’Bradovich said at the 100 year celebration this past weekend, Khalil Mack “is a man-eater, but (Akiem Hicks) is the man who makes it happen.” It’s long been said you put your most important hitter in the 3-hole.

4. Khalil Mack

The quintessential cleanup hitter. Who else would you want in this spot?

5. Danny Trevathan

Provides world champion protection behind Mack in the likely event that the opponent tries to pitch around #52.

6. Roquan Smith

Just when an opponent think they’ve gotten thru the heart of the lineup, the 2018 rookie who came up just shy of Brian Urlacher’s franchise tackling mark is there to “break a man,” as he said right after his Bears intro press conference.

7. Ha-Ha Clinton Dix

Sliding this new addition into the 7-hole takes some of the pressure off of him to make an immediate impact, while also trapping pitchers into thinking they might get a break against a guy who has shown big play ability in the past.

8. Bilal Nichols

One of the most underrated players in the entire league is perfectly fine lurking at the bottom of the order. A second cleanup hitter, he’s happy consistently performing and making his teammates better. Everyone in this lineup knows how valuable he is.

9. Leonard Floyd

Still in a bit of a prove it spot, but if he consistently plays the way he’s shown shown flashes of, he could not only be dangerous in this spot, but he could climb up the lineup pretty quickly.

10. Prince Amukamara

Veteran who knows he’s there to do a job and turn the lineup over. His speed and ball skills make him a threat.

11. Buster Skrine

Another newcomer, let’s see what he’s got at the bottom of the order.

Offense

1. Taylor Gabriel   *Anthony Miller

We can all agree there’s no reason for Miller, a guy who dislocated his shoulder multiple times to be swinging a bat amiright?? Miller has the Willie Mayes Hayes swag you want from the leadoff man when healthy tho.

As for ‘Turbo’ Taylor Gabriel, of course you’re putting a guy who’s been clocked at 23 mph at the top of the lineup.

2. Tarik Cohen

Perfect spot for the swiss army knife of the offense. Could lay down a bunt and beat it out, move the runner, or even hit one to the gap and clear the bases.

3. Mitch Trubisky

The obvious spot for the leader of the offense and Akiem Hicks’ pick (outside himself) to win the home run derby part of this event. Let’s just hope he breaks out the punky QB headband and sunglasses look again this weekend.

4. Kyle Long

The most veteran member of the offensive line is there to protect the QB. Whether or not he’s even in the lineup, if anyone goes high and tight on # 10, better believe they’ll answer to #75.

5. Cody Whitehair

Some more muscle in the middle of the order. Has made it clear he’s good with moving around the lineup if the coaches think it’s best for the team.

6. Allen Robinson

Based on what we saw in the playoff game, he could be on his way to putting up big numbers anywhere in the batting order. Definitely a guy you want up late with the game on the line.

7. Charles Leno

Flies under the radar at one of the most important positions in football. If a pitcher thinks he’s in the clear after getting past Robinson, Leno will be there to throw a big block into that thinking.

8. Trey Burton / Adam Shaheen

When healthy, they provide some pop towards the bottom of the lineup. Let’s have Anthony Miller ready as the designated runner if these guys can get on base.

9. Bobby Massie

The ultimate team guy as he showed by signing a team friendly deal to stay in Chicago much earlier in the offseason than he had to.

10. James Daniels

As the new man in the middle on the offensive line, the burden falls on him to turn the lineup over and set the table for the speedy top of the order.

11. Mike Davis

Good spot to start for this new addition. Could easily see him towards the top of the lineup if he produces the way Matt Nagy & company thinks he can.

The defense has been ahead of the offense for pretty much the entire Pace/Nagy regime. But if Matt Nagy is involved, there’s sure to be no shortage of hidden ball tricks, squeezes and other trick plays with awesome names, so I might have to give a slight edge to the offense in this game.